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Perspective: Crime is not a ‘red state problem.’ It’s rising because of liberal policies

After the social justice protests of the summer of 2020, some cities scaled back laws that kept crime in check. It’s not going well

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Austin police and EMS meet at the Great Hills Baptist Church for a media briefing on Aug. 31, 2023, in Austin, Texas, after a shooting.

Austin police and EMS meet at the Great Hills Baptist Church for a media briefing on Thursday Aug. 31, 2023, in Austin, Texas, after a shooting in the city.

Aaron E. Martinez, Austin American-Statesman via Associated Press

Some people are still arguing that America doesn’t have a crime crisis. The statistics say otherwise. Crime is not only upending the quality of life in Democrat-run cities, but it’s spreading far and wide, showing no sign of subsiding.

In our nation’s capital, all crime categories were up this month, with a 67% increase in robberies, 29% increase in homicides and 112% increase in motor vehicle theft.

On the other side of the country, with 58 homicides as of Sept. 20, Seattle is on pace to see the city’s highest recorded homicides in its history — the existing record is 69 in 1994.

Crime in Austin, Texas, is so bad, with crippling police staff shortages, officials are asking people who have been robbed to dial the nonemergency number 311, instead of 911.

This crime wave started after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in 2020. Floyd’s death spurred a criminal justice reform movement that resulted in police defunding, cashless bail, bans on vehicular pursuits and promises by prosecutors not to charge certain violent crimes as felonies.

Rather than walk back clearly unwise decisions, lawmakers and activists have chosen to gaslight the American people. Despite violent crime up 39%, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson declared “there is not a crime crisis in Washington, D.C.” 

In San Francisco, businesses and residents are fleeing, though the ones who remain now lean on private security to do what police officers cannot: patrol their neighborhoods. Yet when pressed to defend left-wing criminal justice reforms, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared that there is a crime crisis — but in red states.

This is a common and problematic talking point that pretends Republicans are the problem. As one report said, “The murder rate in the 25 states that voted for Donald Trump has exceeded the murder rate in the 25 states that voted for Joe Biden in every year from 2000 to 2020.”

But the data objectively tell the story of a diminishing quality of life in Democrat-run cities — as do the number of people fleeing California. This is why I devoted a section of my new book, “What’s Killing America: Inside the Radical Left’s Tragic Destruction of Our Cities,” to dismantling this particular talking point. What has happened in New York helps to illustrate what’s playing out in many other cities across the country.

Crime crisis? What crime crisis?

When Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg took office, he promised significant reforms in how his office would treat criminals, actually vowing to undercharge and under-​incarcerate. This isn’t merely an analysis of what his policies led to; this is explicitly what he promised.

In his first memo to staff, Bragg ordered his DAs to “not seek a carceral sentence” for a number of offenses, including certain robberies, assaults and even gun possession. Additionally, they were instructed to downgrade many felony charges to misdemeanors, including for drug dealing and armed robberies, and never seek sentences over 20 years unless there were “exceptional circumstances” that warrant harsher penalties.

Career criminal William Rolon benefited from Bragg’s new policies. Armed with a knife, he robbed a Duane Reade drugstore of about $2,000 worth of products, such as cold medicine. While brandishing a knife, he told an employee, “(Expletive) you, I’m taking everything.” That same day, he was accused of returning to the store to steal even more.

In line with Bragg’s directives, instead of facing charges for a serious felony for the armed robbery, Rolon was only hit with low-level misdemeanors, including second-​degree menacing and petit larceny, as if all he stole was a candy bar. During arraignment, Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Jay Weiner told Rolon that he was “lucky” because this was “a case that two weeks ago would have been charged as a robbery.” He specifically cited the “newly elected district attorney” for being charged with a misdemeanor instead of robbery, a charge he should have earned. “I don’t know if anyone would ever feel lucky standing in front of me in a courtroom, but you might reasonably feel lucky today,” the judge told him. The New York Post reported that at the time of his arrest, Rolon was wanted in Brooklyn after he failed to appear in court on felony assault with a weapon charge. In that original case, he was released to community supervision without bail.

The leaked memo ignited a firestorm of community criticism. The pushback was so significant that after initially defending the memo, Bragg revised some policies, including a promise to prosecute armed robberies. But that was just to quiet the critics. His office mostly stuck to the original directives.

By November 2022, Bragg’s office downgraded an astonishing 52% of felony cases to misdemeanor charges. To put this into context: Between 2013 and 2020, that number never exceeded 40%. Prosecutors downgrade charges for a number of legitimate reasons, including a lack of evidence to warrant felony charges or, depending on the case, an agreement that a felony charge for a first-​time, nonviolent offender seems too harsh. But to downgrade over half of the cases shows intent. As telling, Bragg’s office only asked for bail 49% of the time. 

It’s not shocking that the city was rife with serious concerns, thanks to Bragg’s permissive policies. New York City experienced a rash of subway crimes, in particular, largely due to the reform push. But we weren’t supposed to notice a connection. In fact, we weren’t even supposed to admit there was a problem. 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former cop, was elected on the heels of voter disapproval with the escalating crime crisis gripping the city. He promised to bring a much-needed law enforcement perspective to an office that, under the former mayor, Bill de Blasio, seemed to loathe cops and the rule of law. But Adams’ tenure was shaky from the start. On the topic of law and order, he initially fell far short of expectations.

“New Yorkers are safe on the subway system,” the mayor said in January 2022. “I think it’s about 1.7% of the crimes in New York City that occur on the subway system. Think about that for a moment. What we must do is remove the perception of fear.”

By the end of October 2022, subway-​related crime was up over 40%, driven in large part by larceny, robbery and assault. And it saw a shockingly high 23 murders since the defund and reform movement took shape in 2020. That’s a 25‑year high, exceeding the 2018 and 2019 homicides combined. Yet, to Adams and other Democrats, the crime crisis was merely about the perception of crime. 

“We have an average of less than six crimes a day on a subway system with 3.5 million riders,” Adams explained at the time. “But if you write your story based on a narrative, then you’re going to look at the worst of those six crimes and put it on the front pages of your paper every day.”

Similarly, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul downplayed the crisis. Her reelection was unusually close because her conservative opponent, Republican congressman Lee Zeldin, made crime his central campaign theme. Hochul claimed he was “hyperventilating” about crime, hoping to “scare people” into voting for him. 

“And New Yorkers are onto it. All the legitimate media organizations have called him out for what he is doing. Fear-​mongering. And that’s not just here in New York. That’s been the Republican playbook all across this country,” Hochul told a reporter. “All you need to know is that Democratic states are safer than Republican states. Check out the facts.”


Sleight of hand

Through intentional sleight of hand, Hochul and other Democrats changed the debate from the safety of Democrat-​controlled cities to Republican-​controlled states. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, argued the country had a “red state murder problem.” Soros-​funded Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, in office as his city hit historic homicides, claimed the actual violent crime is happening in “MAGA states.”

“Republicans lie!” Krasner said about Republican criticism of Democrat policies on crime. “I mean, let’s just get down to it. Republicans lie. That is what they do.”

Ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, journalist Ben Adler cited a study from the left-​wing think-​tank Third Way that claims despite “the right-​wing obsession over homicides in Democratic cities: Murder rates are far higher in Trump-​voting red states than Biden-​voting blue states.” The study looked at data from 2020. Of the 10 states with the highest murder rates, eight voted for Trump.

The argument is disingenuous, of course. The most murderous state from the study is Missouri, a Trump-​loving red state. But its murder rate is driven by Democrat-​run St. Louis and Kansas City.

In 2019, St. Louis was the deadliest city in the country and, according to progressive website ProPublica, 2020 would have been its deadliest on record, but the city is “classifying more than three dozen killings as what are termed justifiable homicides, sometimes in apparent violation of FBI guidelines for reporting crimes.” Also on the list are Louisiana and Tennessee. Likewise, Democrat-​run New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Memphis and Chattanooga ran up the numbers for their respective states.

The conservative Manhattan Institute did what Third Way chose not to. It looked at the data behind the Republican claim that Democrat-​run cities are rife with crime. Researchers found that, “The homicide rate in the blue cities was 15.8 per 100,000, compared to 9.4 per 100,000 in the red cities and 10.9 per 100,000 in the two cities with Independent mayors.” Moreover, they found, “Counties with a higher share of GOP voters not only have lower homicide rates but also a lower growth in homicide rates between 2019 and 2020.”

No one argued that crime didn’t or doesn’t happen in red America, be it states, counties, cities or towns. But the very crime argument hinges on a simple fact: Many of the crimes the country experienced can be directly tied to specific policies, reforms and initiatives from the radical Left. That makes them almost entirely avoidable crimes.

Though for some Democrats married to their ideology, no matter the data you provide, they will never budge from their belief that their reforms are working. And if you’re New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, you simply reject reality.

By September 2022, New Orleans earned the title of U.S. murder capital. By then, the city experienced 52 homicides per 100,000 residents, far higher than St. Louis (45 per 100,000), Chicago (18 per 100,000), and New York (3.5 per 100,000). It didn’t help that the police department had under 1,000 officers in a city that, just a few years earlier, had over 1,300. It was no coincidence the city was making steady progress at the time, hitting a historic low number of homicides in 2019, until radical Left reforms were adopted and police fled the department. But Cantrell rejected these new stats and new reality, making the case at a press conference that the homicides weren’t happening. Her answer was as meandering as it was, frankly, deranged. 

“I don’t embrace that at all,” she told local media. “I don’t embrace it because, one, that is ... the data even used for that is more of a governmental term for that. It’s not based on what is actually happening on the ground, in our community, and even as you look at comparisons to other cities throughout this country.”

She then complained about media coverage for unfairly comparing New Orleans to cities like Chicago because they had more murders over Memorial Day weekend 2022. Chicago had nine homicides, only two more than New Orleans. And 2022 started off worse than anyone imagined. In just the first 10 days of the year, the city averaged over one murder a day. But Cantrell doesn’t “embrace” those numbers, so I guess no one was dying. 

Meanwhile, left-​wing media outlets like CNN took the same approach. Before his humiliating termination, CNN’s Brian Stelter called Fox News coverage of the crime crisis an “imagined drama.” His sycophantic colleague, media analyst Oliver Darcy, called the coverage “distorted.” They said this even as the national murder rate surged 30% between 2019 and 2020, which came after steady and significant declines since the early 1990s.

In fact, 12 large American cities set record-​high homicide rates, and all of them were run by Democrats. Philadelphia experienced 561 homicides in 2021, the city’s highest number ever recorded. Rochester, New York, broke its 30‑year-​old homicide record with a rate higher than New York City at 38.4 homicides per 100,000 people. Fueled by gang and drug violence, Portland, Oregon, exceeded its previous record 66 homicides in 1987 with 90 in 2021 (and 101 in 2022). Rounding up the list are Toledo, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Austin, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; St. Paul, Minnesota; Tucson, Arizona; and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Costly consequences

What is so tragic about the current crime crisis is that it’s the result of policy choices. These homicides, rapes, assaults, robberies did not have to happen. And if not for the criminal justice reforms pushed through by the radical Left, most of them would not likely have occurred. 

While Democrats may think it’s smart politics to shift the blame to Republicans by reframing the argument and leaving out the Democrats’ role in our problems, it’s going to have even more costly consequences if people believe it. 

America’s greatest cities are being destroyed by the radical left and their actions are spreading far outside city limits. It’s not just about crime, but homelessness, drug use, burdensome taxes, ideologically driven school curriculum, and policies trying to dictate how we go about our everyday lives. 

I wrote “What’s Killing America” so that we can learn what the radical left is up to, why they believe what they believe, and how we can take our cities back. And if we don’t act fast, we’ll go from exploring what’s killing America to what killed America. 

Jason Rantz is a Seattle-based talk radio host with KTTH Radio and a frequent Fox News analyst. Parts of this essay are adapted from his book “What’s Killing America: Inside the Radical Left’s Tragic Destruction of Our Cities,” released this week by Center Street.